Distance: 3 miles (4.8 km) round trip to Vernal Fall, 7 miles (11 km) round trip to Nevada Fall. If you walk from Curry Village instead of catching a shuttle bus to the trailhead, add an extra 1.5 miles (2.4 km) round trip.
Elevation at trailhead: 4,000 feet (1,200 meters)
Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet (300 meters) to top of Vernal Fall; 1,900 feet (580 meters) to top of Nevada Fall
Why Hike the Mist Trail? This is Yosemite's signature hike. While many of Yosemite's trails are popular due to having a single spectacular destination, the Mist Trail has fabulous views scattered all along it, beginning at the bridge overlook, progressing to two unforgettable waterfalls that fall a combined total of more than 900 feet (270 meters), and ending with perhaps the most striking of all: the view of Nevada Fall, Liberty Cap, and the back of Half Dome from the Muir Trail return segment.
Best Time to Visit: in the springtime, when the falls are at their eye-popping best
Hiking Time: 2 - 5 hours, depending on how far you go
Scenery Factor: Sublime. You can get covered-with-spray close to two of Yosemite's rock-star waterfalls, and the view looking back from the Muir Trail is just as remarkable as the trail up the falls.
Crowd Factor: Heavy to the top of Vernal Fall, especially when the water is high. The crowds thin out considerably if you continue to the top of Nevada Fall, although several trails intersect at the top of this fall, so you won't be alone there.
Difficulty: Medium, but bordering strenuous if you go all the way to the top of Nevada Fall. The stretches beside Vernal and Nevada Falls are both quite steep - in fact, the last few hundred meters up the Vernal Falls trail are stairs cut into the cliffside. If you need a gentler workout, you can just proceed as far as the bridge looking upstream to Vernal Fall without exerting yourself quite so much.
Parking: You can park just about anywhere in the eastern half of Yosemite Valley and catch a free shuttle bus to the trailhead near Happy Isles. The nearest parking, however, is at the trailhead parking lot, which is just east of Curry Village. If it's full, try Curry Village, where you can usually find a spot if you're willing to poke around in the back corners of the unpaved section of the lot.
Nearest Bathrooms: Park planners were apparently concerned about what subliminal messages our bladders would receive from the sight of all that flowing water, because the Mist Trail is Yosemite's toilet king. Besides the ones at Curry Village, you'll find them across the bridge at the first overlook, at the top of Vernal Fall, and at the top of Nevada Fall.
Nearest Snacks: There are restaurants and a convenience store at Curry Village, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of the trailhead. There's also a snack stand at Happy Isles, just across the bridge from the trailhead. You can get drinking water at the Vernal Fall footbridge, a mile (1.5 km) along the trail.
Getting There: In Yosemite Valley, follow the signs to Curry Village. From Curry Village, a good place to park, hike southeastish on Southside Drive until you reach the trailhead or catch a ride on one of the free shuttle buses. Alternately, you can check the trailhead parking lot, which is roughly half a mile past Curry Village and another half mile or so short of the trailhead itself. This lot tends to fill up early with people doing the Half Dome hike, though. Private vehicles aren't allowed on the road past the trailhead parking lot, so you can't drive all the way to the trailhead.
Hazards: It's illegal to remove any natural objects from a national park, but everyone who hikes the aptly named Mist Trail in the early season is a scofflaw: it's impossible to hike to the top of Vernal Fall in the spring without taking a little piece of the fall with you. You will get wet. Very wet. Taking-a-shower wet. Jumping-in-the-ocean wet. Bring rain gear.
For related reasons, the stone steps carved into the canyon wall beside Vernal Fall can be slippery, so tread carefully.
Readers of the morbid yet mesmerizing Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite will be aware of the surprising fact that more people die on the Mist Trail than almost anywhere else in Yosemite. It's not the waterfalls or the cliffs that are the culprits; it's the current. The river here apparently looks much less dangerous than it actually is. Typically, a hiker slips into the water and finds the current too strong to overcome, then gets swept to a regrettable death somewhere downstream. So please be careful when you're near the river.
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